CRUISING IN THAILAND
by Yuko Naumann
How could I turn down an opportunity for a weeklong cruise on a luxury motorsailer in the Andaman Sea? Without a second thought, I packed my bags and jumped on a plane to Singapore, and the following day I found myself looking out the airplane window at the beautiful waters surrounding the island of Langkawi off the coast of Malaysia.
The last time I was in Langkawi was in 2001, when it was relatively quiet. Langkawi has come a long way since then; there are 4, 5, and even 6-star hotels, as well as spas, golfing, horseback riding and even a cable car taking visitors to the highest point on the island.
At the Langkawi International Airport I met my shipmates and we were driven to Pantai Tengah with a quick pit stop for sunblock and duty-free goodies. Many other shopping opportunities abound since Langkawi was designated as a duty-free zone in 1987 to entice tourists to the island.
A luxurious yacht tender picked us up. Phillipe, the first mate, maneuvered the tender between sailboats and as we went around a small island there she was, S/V Blue Gold. This majestic 10-passenger sailboat—all 165 feet of her—had been built in Italy and recently underwent a full retrofit. Once aboard, the crew welcomed us with refreshments and big smiles. Before we got too comfortable and settled into the plush comforts of the boat, Alain, the captain, took us on a tour of Blue Gold’s impressive accommodations. The master suite had a king-size bed, with a lounge area and “his & hers” wardrobes. The VIP cabin had a queen-size bed, also with a lounge area. Both had ensuite bathrooms.
The first evening aboard was the perfect start to our voyage—a small cocktail party followed by a light meal of seared tuna salad. It was exactly what our jet-lagged bodies craved, and we all slept very well aboard what would become our new home for the next 7 days.
In the morning after breakfast, we sailed to Pulau Ta Ngah (also spelled “Pulau Tengah”; pulau means island in Malay). In the 1970s the site had been a Vietnamese refugee transit camp. Not long after the end of the war, the camp was shut down and the island was gazetted as a marine park by the Malaysian government. Officially “uninhabited,” it does boast a golf course, but we were unable to determine if it was still in operation. The most intriguing event on the island occurs in July when the giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs on a beach on Ta Ngah.
Caves, Mangroves, Crocodiles
Past Pulau Ta Ngah, we crossed the border into Thailand, sailing towards the island of Ko Terutao (or “Ko Tarutao”; ko means island in Thai), the location for television’s Survivor 5. Only 10 miles from the glitz of Langkawi, this island is the country’s first National Marine Park; but in the 1930s it was a penal island. Thais still refer to it as “Prison Island” and “Terutao Hell.” Terutao’s natural setting—which includes a virulent strain of malaria infesting its dense jungles, mangroves full of aggressive sea crocodiles, and shivers of sharks found off shore—creates a “natural barrier” that helped prevent prisoners from escaping.
There are rivers that lead through the mangroves into the interior of Terutao. There one can explore cool, deep caves with dazzling stalactites and stalagmites. Long-tail boats are available to go up-river, but we opted to go in style aboard the posh Blue Gold tender.
Terutao is a beautiful, rustic place to visit when you want to get away from it all. Visitors can either camp or rent very basic bungalows, equipped with fans that only work during the day. A little stand serving local food is the only eating establishment on the island, and a single, small store sells basic supplies.
White Beaches and Emerald Seas
On our fourth day on Blue Gold, we cruised at full sail to the beautiful islands of Ko Rok Nok and Ko Rok Nai, known for their steep cliffs, white beaches and emerald green waters. Part of the Mu Ko Lanta National Park, these areas have many ideal dive spots, so we geared up and set out in the tender. While exploring the reef, I encountered puffer fish, trumpet fish, angelfish, clown fish, giant clams and more. I also discovered several hot thermal springs where I found myself strangely floating upward amidst rushes of water almost too hot to bear.
Day five was comprised of a leisurely breakfast, diving and relaxing. The sea life was more diverse than the day before and I came across the biggest jellyfish I had ever seen, almost three feet wide!
The next day we left the beautiful Rok islands behind and set sail for the limestone islands of Ko Pi Pi Don (or “Ko Phi Phi Don”), passing Ko Pi Pi Lee (or “Ko Phi Phi Leh”) on the way. These two islands are part of the predominantly Muslim province of Krabi. Sailing through another national park as we approach Pi Pi Don, we could see the newly laid concrete piers and the motorboats waiting to take tourists to nearby Pha Nga Bay to see the karst (eroding limestone) landscape. Day trips are available from Pi Pi Don to check out the phenomenal rock formations made famous in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.
After 5 serene days on quiet islands to the south, the bustle of Pi Pi Don struck a stark contrast. A dense cluster of shops, hotels and food stands occupies the narrow strand of sand connecting the two steeply sloped portions of the island.
The run from Ko Pi Pi Don to the famous resort island of Phuket was to be our last sail. As usual, we were blessed with sunny weather and calm seas throughout this final leg. Arriving at the southern tip of Phuket, we wound around Cape Promthep and into a small bay across from the Royal Phuket Marina next to the Le Meridien Hotel. Once we anchored close to Kata Beach, I went ashore and found some truly wonderful local food, procured a revitalizing massage on the beach, and made my way to Patong Beach. In the town of Patong I even managed to squeeze in a bit of shopping among the many shops selling local crafts. Back on the boat we shared our last sunset and meal together on Blue Gold.
After the last of seven magical days and nights, we reluctantly said our goodbyes to the crew and we were ferried ashore by the tender for the last time. Stepping once again on the soft sand of the beach, I knew I would always remember this amazing trip and the thrill of cruising through the Andaman Sea.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The BLUE GOLD luxury sailing expedition yacht is available for custom charters and projects through Ocean Voyages. In 2008 she will be sailing throughout the waters of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomons and New Guinea. Inquire with Ocean VoyageS Inc. to arrange custom trips on Blue Gold and their other fine sailing vessels and motor yachts throughout the world. Contact Blue Gold at 1-800-299-4444 (US only), (415) 332-4681, or firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit their website at www.oceanvoyages.com.
THAILAND TRAVEL TIPS
* The tropical sun in this region is intense so don’t forget your sun-block, sun glasses, and a hat. Bring comfortable shoes and a light jacket. Evenings during the dry season can be surprisingly cool. Bringing your electronic gadgets? Don’t forget extra batteries and a universal adapter, the heat drains the batteries faster and good quality batteries are expensive.
* Though it’s hot out and the beach scene seems laid back, shirts with sleeves convey respect and a touch of formality that is appreciated by the locals. This is especially true when visiting religious sites where showing less skin is considered proper.
* The cooler and drier months in Langkawi, Krabi, and Phuket are between November and April. You won’t need a visa but, be sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your departure. All ASEAN countries require it for all visitors.